Points of Departure – Farewell to the Executive Officer

Dr Gareth J Johnson

After almost 7 years, our much beloved Executive Officer has called time for his role. He takes a moment to reflect back on his Collaboration journey.

Walking Llama

If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t heard yet, I’ve decided the time has come for myself and the Collaboration to part ways this July. I first came onboard back in the dying days of 2015 when the Collaboration itself was still a fresh-faced entity, with only a single special interest group to its name. Not to mention when regional travel and face-to-face meetings were very much a regular part of the role. Governance and protocols were light, the direction of travel still emergent and the possibilities for what the role and organisation could achieve were considerable.

Personally speaking, I’d taken the post to support my last couple of years researching for my doctorate. Given my background in academic libraries and running local and national professional bodies seemed a perfect fit. Like so many of the posts I’ve occupied over the years, what was initially perhaps more of a stopgap, emerged into a long term commitment, and I’d suggest both and I and the Collaboration have been enriched by this longevity.

Since those fledgling days, the Collaboration has evolved in size, if only by one member institution. Yet, operations and activities have swollen to include the seven subgroups we have operating today, not to mention another one on the cusp of creation and a task/finish group hosting fascinating discussions on inclusion and accessibility. Today, staying on top of everything happening under the Collaboration’s aegis and maintaining the direction of travel possibly requires a ‘transcendental quickness’ and deftness of approach. A modest hyperbole perhaps, but I’m probably never happier than when keeping all the Collaboration crockery in full rotation.

Certainly, this has been a post where no week has been quite like the one proceeding it, and that variety has undoubtedly been one of the strongest elements that’s kept me in the role all this time. That and the countless professional, working and personal relationships I’ve developed with the wonderful library staffers across this region (and beyond). If I take any measure of success away with me, it’s from these links which I’ve mediated, curated and forged.

Given our current chair, the estimable Chris Porter, has referred to me as ‘the organisation memory’, maybe one of these days I will sit down and write an article on my experiences in some greater depth. Undoubtedly, there’s more than one ‘tale to astonish’ I could share. I welcome any approaches in that respect with my academic hat firmly on!

Yet, looking back now, in my final days aboard the Collaboration, I almost perceive how I’ve experienced three organisational ages. First were the formative years (2015-2017) as we found our way as a body, established our first unique special interest groups and which culminated in the first conference at DMU. Then we have our, arguable, imperial phase as operations became normalised, SOPs established, subgroups matured and the conference became, if not routine, but a strongly established annual focus.

Then we have the most recent period, one demarcated by remote working, online events and conferences. Yet, despite the loss of regional travel to events, I have been frankly busier than ever as the Collaboration found new ways to be relevant and offer value across its membership. Curiously, in recent months I’ve witnessed the flickering of a new organisational age, which feels curiously apposite as the point at which to announce my departure.

Now, as we enter a brief intermezzo, or telophase perhaps, standing at the cusp of a new Collaboration era, I am excited for whomever comes next. I suspect my successor as Officer will have the pleasure and privilege of helping to shape and run a Collaboration, stronger in purpose but more flexible and imaginative in form. Certainly, the lessons, facilities and experiences of our online era will continue to be applied, and resonate in all we do. Undoubtedly, the Collaboration as she will be from mid-2022 onwards won’t be quite the same entity as it was before. Which is, in of itself, no bad thing.

In parting then, I might reflect that transition into a new form, with new working arrangements and recalibrated inter-relationships is never easy. Nevertheless, I know I am leaving the Collaboration on a high note with high and healthy expectations for future probabilities which are rich and varied. Perhaps, in this new age, a changing of the guard is not entirely a bad thing. After all, as a great and wise academician once said, ‘Change my dear…and it seems not a moment too soon’

To my successor then I say good luck, and I hope you enjoy all the myriad of activities which comprise the Officer’s role: and pragmatically that my handover notes make sense. To the rest of the Collaboration, I say thanks for (almost) seven varied years, and my very best wishes for the future.